Export remains central for the German economy. This would be unthinkable without the industrial standards which the German Institute for Standardization (DIN) creates. However, in the lawsuit that DIN has filed against Public.Resource.Org different views on the nature and function of norms collide.
The proclaimed goal of Public.Resource.Org, an NGO founded by Carl Malamud, is „Making government information more accessible“. The question is whether it is a) legitimate and b) advisable to treat DIN norms as „government information“.
Who Pays for the Development of Standards?
Although the German Institute for Standardization serves as the German government’s acknowleged national standards body, it is a private association. The bulk of money neccessary for DIN’s comprehensive work in the field of standardization is generated by DIN itself, not the German government. According to the DIN website, „70 % of the financing of the DIN Group (DIN German Institute for Standardization, Beuth Verlag GmbH, and DIN Software GmbH) comes from its own income generated by its services and products. 13 % of its revenue takes the form of project funds from industry, a further 11 % is financed through public project funds, while 5 % is covered by its membership fees.“
This shows that the German standards have so far essentially been paid for by the stakeholders who need and use them for their respective (industrial) undertakings. As a commodity, they function quite differently from government norms, such as laws.
Public Domain Versus Business Model
The publication of the DIN standards at Beuth publishing house is a central revenue source for the DIN group and Carl Malamud’s attempt to make DIN standards freely available on the internet threatens this financing model.
It is, of course, possible to think of other ways to finance the work of the German Institute for Standardization. What if the German government decided to directly fund the work of DIN? This could amount to a collectivisation of costs for a commodity that mainly serves the German industry and economy. But would it really be fair to strain all Germans, from child to pensioner, financially for this matter?
The Current State of Affairs
In the lawsuit between DIN and Public.Resource.Org, the district court of Hamburg has ruled that DIN standards count as works protected by copyright. Because of their importance as offically accepted standards, they can be viewed by anyone free of charge at 109 „info-points“ all over Germany. But the „usable“ version (in print or as a digital download) remains a product to be purchased by those who want to implement these standards in their business or organisation. And this business model of paying for membership and development of the DIN standards currently ensures the quality of these standards, which are of considerable importance for the German economy. After all, according to a study conducted by the German Institute for Standardization (DIN), „standards generate economic benefits which have been estimated at 17 billion euros a year for Germany alone“.
To sum it up, treating DIN standards as government information does not account for the actual funding, nature and function of these standards, and it would most likely not benefit the general public. But it doesn’t look as if Public.Resource.Org is able or willing to take this into account: Malamud has announced that he will appeal against the court decision.
Co-author: Unica Peters
Income structure of the DIN group
German article on lawsuit and verdict
DIN study „The Economic Benefits of Standardization“ (PDF, 2011)